Jazz Lead Sheets


Ambrose Akinmusire

As the tour takes us through Virginia and North Carolina, I’ve been finding time to write out drum lead sheets for some of my favourite jazz tunes. Writing a lead sheet for a song – a kind of blueprint – will not only help you understand it’s structure, it will also give you an insight into the composers process, as well as helping you to internalise the main melody line. I transcribe any information a drummer will need to play the tune, such as the structure, the rhythm of the main melody line and any pushes or phrasings.

An artist I’ve been obsessing over recently is the precocious New York-based trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and his Blue Note Records album When The Heart Emerges Glistening. The performances on this album are a masterclass in musical prowess and the listening on display is close to telepathic.

Below is a lead sheet for the second track on the album ‘Jaya’:

Jaya - Full Score2

Jaya album recording:


  • The main melody is a combination of bars of 7/4, 6/4 and 5/4.
  • I hear the recurring 11/4 vamp section as two bars of 6/4 with one beat taken out.
  • The solo section begins with the 11/4 vamp followed by a more frenetic section of three bars of 6/4 and three bars of 5/4.
  • After the solo section there’s an alternate melody line for 6 bars, followed by a return to the main melody.
  • Drummer Justin Brown masterfully glides through the changes of meter, often disguising the downbeat.

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